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Calumny

By Fr. Paul Mankowski, S.J. (articles ) | Jun 15, 2003

"Gregory Peck, a star of quiet dignity," reads the headline of the NYT obituary -- a judgment as perspicacious as billing Sylvester Stallone as a world-class boxer. It is no disparagement of Peck's acting abilities to remember that, to his enduring shame, he was party to one of the vilest acts of calumny in modern politics. In 1987, Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork was subjected to a campaign of character assassination so cynical in its ferocity that it added a new verb -- "borking" -- to the English lexicon. Says the Times:

Bork supporters were incensed by the campaign against their candidate, reserving much of their criticism for a 60-second television spot, paid for by People for the American Way, in which Mr. Peck said of Judge Bork, among other things: "He defended poll taxes and literacy tests which kept many Americans from voting. He opposed the civil rights law that ended 'whites only' signs at lunch counters. He doesn't believe the Constitution protects your right to privacy."

Peck was not simply a face-for-hire here, mouthing who-cares-what script from the teleprompter with a check in his coat pocket; he was willingly complicit in the detraction. Those unfamiliar with the issues at stake might easily miss the fact that the Times is continuing the anti-Bork war even in Peck's obit: by the language of "Bork supporters" and "their candidate" we are meant to infer that the judicial process as a whole is simply one more operation of partisan politics -- exactly the contrary of Bork's own conviction and an example of the cynicism against which his highly disciplined intellectual objectivity was directed throughout his career.

Bork is the man of quiet dignity. The tragedy is that Peck, who played one on TV, should have done so too well.

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